But the Bahamas welcomed him. "I made boxing," Ali said. "I made it possible for them to say, 'Gimme 12 million.' Those suckers couldn't ask for a million till I came along. I built the audience. And they put me in exile. The whole world was watching boxing because of me. My talking. My poems. My predicting. My shuffle.... Then they ran me out of the country because I had a bad night."
The concern for Ali's health was widespread and legitimate. Two physicians, including his former doctor, Ferdie Pacheco, had stated that Ali was suffering brain damage from having absorbed too many blows. His speech had slowed and was occasionally slurred. Worried himself, and wanting to put the question to rest before fighting Berbick, Ali submitted to a series of tests two months ago at New York University under the supervision of Dr. Harry Demopoulos, a professor of pathology. Demopoulos said the tests, along with others administered at UCLA and the Mayo Clinic, included a CAT scan, neurological exams, electroencephalograms and blood checks.
Demopoulos said that 30 doctors were involved in the studies and that they all came to the same conclusion: "There's absolutely no evidence that Muhammad has sustained any injury to any vital organ—brain, liver, kidneys, heart, lungs—nervous system, or muscle or bone systems. His blood tests indicate he has the vessels of a young man."
And the slurring? "We think it's a psychosocial response," Demopoulos said. "If the slurring were due to permanent damage, it would be there all the time." It occurs under certain circumstances, Demopoulos said, such as when Ali is under stress or when he is fatigued. The Bahamian minister of sports, youth and community affairs, Kendel Nottage, approved the fight. "I was shown a number of medical reports, and they were satisfactory to me," Nottage said.
That Ali would be 40 in a month was, of course, an illusion, a trick of time that he could conceal in the palm of his hand. To Ali, it was still Oct. 1, 1975, when he beat Joe Frazier in the Philippines, his last great fight. "Forty is fun because life has just begun," Ali said. "Age is mind over matter—as long as you don't mind, it don't matter.... I'm like I was in Manila. I'm movin' and punchin' now like in Manila.... Ten rounds is so simple. I can sizzle and dance for 10 rounds. This man stands still and waits.... Berbick's easy to hit. He's so easy to hit that he gets mad if you miss him."
Ali said he was in training for the 11 weeks that he was in the Bahamas—"I'm in such good shape," he said—but there were days when he hiked far longer than he ran, wearing a rubber corset as he trudged through town, his midriff jiggling. One morning, in the company of two British writers, Ali walked through his roadwork, shadowboxed desultorily along the way, jogged about 50 yards, then climbed into a waiting limousine that took him back to his hotel. Lounging on his bed three days before the fight, he talked of a book he had in mind.
"On middle age and me," he said to several onlookers. "How to get in shape. What you do every day. For 10 weeks. How many rounds on the speed bag." The title: How to Do It Like Me.
Only one man has ever done it his way, forever promising to dance. "Stay out of range," he said, sitting up in bed. "Pop! Pop! On my toes. In range. Out of range. Pop! Pow! Building points. See how fast they come."
Ali's longtime trainer, Angelo Dundee, had just arrived from Miami, and was watching him. Dundee had tried to dissuade Ali from coming back, but he had been with him too long to desert him now. Ali stopped throwing punches in the light of the half-darkened room.
"The hand speed is still there," Dundee said. "Once he starts cooking with his jab, he'll be home free."